Let’s describe the current mood of Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis in two words.
We could go with quarterback Cam Newton’s old description of Davis: “Charlotte’s sweetheart.” But Davis seemed very stern on Wednesday.
We could try safety Kurt Coleman’s phrase for how Davis plays on the field: “Raw emotion.” That’s closer.
Or we could just go with the two words Davis came up with Wednesday when he met with the media at large for the first time since Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman got fired nine days previously: “Extremely irked.”
Davis wants everyone to know he didn’t have any part in firing Gettleman. All he wanted was a contract extension, much like tight end and fellow team captain Greg Olsen wants one.
“Some of the stuff that was being said was unbelievable,” Davis said. “To think of the two guys that were being talked about. … What we try to represent and what we try to stand for is not only as players but as pillars of the community and as leaders of this football team. Last week? It was totally unfair and uncalled for.”
The Observer, as well as other media outlets, reported that the ongoing contract negotiations between Davis, Olsen and Gettleman had provided a tipping point for owner Jerry Richardson and his displeasure with Gettleman’s brusque bedside manner and some of the roster deterioration that had occurred since the 15-1 Super Bowl season of 2015. We stand by that report.
But I also do see Davis’s point to some extent. While his actions may have helped precipitate the firing, should they have?
After all, a player asking for more money and a longer contract in the NFL is as common as an extra point being converted. It happens all the time. (Pro Football Hall of Fame general manager Bill Polian had to deal with outside linebacker Kevin Greene doing almost exactly the same thing in 1997 when Greene was playing for Carolina, although Richardson did not fire Polian then for cutting Greene in late August after what was a much nastier contract dispute.)
Davis was certainly allowed to ask for the money, just as Gettleman was allowed to answer. And, according to Davis, the negotiations weren’t necessarily progressing but were cordial.
“I sat down with Mr. Gettleman a bunch,” Davis said. “To his credit, he told me to my face that he didn’t see a decline in my play. He told me that he had never seen anything like it before, for a guy my age. I guess it sort of put him in a tough position making a decision moving forward. But it was never where he said something negative about me as a player or a person.”
Gettleman drafted a player in the first round in 2015 – Shaq Thompson – who is waiting to take over Davis’s starting spot at outside linebacker. And let’s keep in mind that when Davis signed a contract extension in June 2015, everyone believed that three-year, $18-million deal (which expires at the end of the 2017 season) would be his last.
So there was some negotiating to be done here. Davis still can play at a Pro Bowl level – the player who was once drafted in 2005 to stop Michael Vick can still run faster than Luke Kuechly in 2017, and that’s according to Kuechly himself. And Davis is incredibly tough. Davis famously played in the Super Bowl against Denver with a broken arm.
The Panthers want Davis to retire in Charlotte. But they don’t want to break the bank re-signing a 34-year-old linebacker either, even if he was the 2014 Walter Payton Man of the Year.
None of this sounds like a firing offense, does it? But remember that the wild card in this equation is Panthers owner and founder Jerry Richardson, who hasn’t been available for comment during this mess but who may never have loved a player more than he loves Davis.
Davis has returned from three ACL surgeries – all on the same knee – to play his best football in his early 30s. As Newton has said, Davis has an “aura” around him because of all the injury rehab he has been through.
So in my opinion, Davis got stuck in the middle between two proud men when he didn’t immediately get a contract extension. One of those men – Richardson – carries a bigger stick. He fired the other one.
In the meantime, Davis is tooling around training camp at Wofford College in his tricked-out, customized golf cart and certainly looks like he’s going to get that new contract. The Panthers would be foolish to let him go, of course. And the linebacker – while careful not to criticize Gettleman – pooh-poohs the idea that firing a GM will translate into wins or losses.
Said Davis: “Looking at social media and seeing all the talk, and the people rushing to judgment saying our season is going to be terrible because we let our GM go a week before – you have to realize that we are the ones that go out and play the games. We will determine how our season goes.”
It was Davis, remember, who promised Richardson a Super Bowl ring before the linebacker retired. There are very few years left for him to try to fulfill that promise.
But with a contract extension on the horizon, it sounds like this will not be Davis’s last hurrah. He has outlasted hundreds of players in the NFL throughout his career. He outlasted Gettleman, too.